Using Social Media to Engage With Library Users

June 2, 2019 Jen Cheng

Ask any social media community manager and they will tell you that managing social media pages and communities is a huge undertaking. When done right, social media can be a powerful tool for libraries to engage and connect with users and visitors.

We recently spoke to Jacky Leung, Information Instruction Librarian,  along with his colleagues from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, about an event that they organized called Day and Night at the Library to engage users through social media.

Q. Can you tell us more about the “Day and Night at the Library” event? How did you come up with this idea and what did the library hope to achieve?

A. The “Day and Night at the Library” event was inspired by a photo competition that our university ran annually from 2009 to 2015. We received many good entries with insightful descriptions and it was interesting to look at the campus through the eyes of the participants.

The winning entry: Let’s Study by Yat Hei Tam (CIVL)

The library is a popular social and learning space on campus. Our library’s outreach and marketing group, the User Communications Committee (UCC), decided to organize a photo contest in 2018 in hopes of strengthening connections with our users (both staff and students). We wanted to see the library through their eyes and let their photos show us the library from less traditional and non-librarian points of view.

We considered several possible themes such as "My Library Moment", "Library in the Eyes of the Beholders", and "Library Connect 360". In the end, UCC members chose Day & Night at the Library. This theme is a great reflection of the fact that the library is open until 11 pm on weeknights (9 pm on weekends), and the  Learning Commons is open 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Q. Was the event well received by your library users and visitors, and did the team achieve what it set out to?

A. We think it was quite successful!  We received 92 wonderful submissions from 57 participants (52 students and 5 staff members), as well as likes and shares in the hundreds.

Award-winning photo titles and descriptions such as The Tetris Journey (2nd Runner Up) and Eureka (2nd Runner Up) (see more here) showed different ways our users perceive the Library in connection with their academic journeys and pursuit of knowledge.

A large number of entries with interesting descriptions were written by participants, and the number of shares and likes on Facebook showed that our users really engaged with us through the contest.

Q. We saw the amazing photos that were shared via the hashtag #hkustlibraryphotocontest2018 on Facebook! How was the event promoted and how did this social media initiative perform as compared to past activities?

A. The album received 131 likes and the winning entry Photographer in Library attracted 207 likes as a result. We sent out an email invitation to all current students & staff members. We also promoted the contest on Facebook, the Library homepage and e-boards. In our replies to photo submissions, we also encouraged participants to invite their friends to like their photos on our Facebook as one of the awards was for the “Most Facebook Likes”.

The photos were also shared by the HKUST Alumni on Facebook with the description “Walking down memory lane. Remember times that were spent in this library?” It is heartwarming to know that the library is a part of their fond memories of HKUST.

The album and the photos performed better than the average post and were among the most popular ones.

Q. What are some tips that you would share with a librarian who wants to run an activity like this?

A. It’s good to have one People’s Choice award on a selected popular social media platform to engage both participants and their friends. Think of a good theme and hashtag! Photo entries should have meaningful titles (maybe descriptions as well). Promote the contest on suitable, popular social media platforms (e.g., Twitter and Pinterest in North America, Weibo in Mainland China), tag relevant university units or student societies where appropriate.

If time and resources allow, I recommend that librarians comment on or like the photos posted throughout the contest.

Q. On a separate note, what are some of the challenges that the team faces when managing social media platforms and communities? Can you share with us any future plans that the library has for using social media to engage with library users?

A. It's difficult to post regularly and frequently as we want our posts to be interesting and of good quality.  It’s also difficult to keep up with the trends – for instance the most popular social media platforms used by our students and the latest, trending hashtags.

We opened our official Instagram (IG) account in April 2018 but did not actively promote it yet. It seems that more students and university units are using IG and we will try to be more active on this channel. Multimedia posts are usually more engaging than still images and we may post 360 degree photos more often and also try Facebook live or IGTV to broadcast special occasions, such as exhibitions, performances and outstanding student helper award ceremonies.

We are just catching the tail end of different trends. In the future, we may design our own WhatsApp stickers, and try using AI and machine learning to build our own chatbot to communicate with our users on Facebook or WhatsApp.


Jacky Leung is an Information Instruction Librarian at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Connect with Jacky on Linkedin here.

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About the Author

Jen Cheng

Content Marketing Strategist, Wiley //

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